Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie

I hope everyone had a yummy Thanksgiving.  If you're anything like me, you've had more than your fill of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and, of course, lots and lots of pie.  After one "Friendsgiving" here in DC, Thanksgiving in Connecticut, and one more "Friendsgiving" to go (which I get to host!), I'll have, in total, made this pie four times this year.  
CT Thanksgiving
And it's worth it every time!  This is no normal pumpkin pie.  This is the pumpkin pie that people who don't even like pumpkin pie will ask you to make over and over again.  This pie totes not just pumpkin, but candied yams.  Maple syrup, fresh ginger, and lots of cream combine for the perfect flavor combination that hint of cold weather, falling leaves, and, dare I say it, snow. 

My favorite way to make silky smooth pumpkin pie is from scratch.  As in, from a real pumpkin!  I'm just waiting for the day when I no longer live in a tiny studio apartment and have a yard in which to grow pumpkins.  Then this will really be from scratch.  Until then, Whole Foods will have to suffice.  (And when I'm crunched for time, canned pumpkin always works too.)  Make sure you get a sugar pumpkin.  Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds.  Save them for roasting later! Bake on a greased cookie sheet, cut side down, in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, or until they give way easily to a fork stuck through the skin.  

Once baked through, let the pumpkin cool just enough so that you can touch it.  Scoop the pulp out with a spoon and mash with a potato masher (or run through a food processor).  

Next, make the crust.  In a large mixing bowl, mix together flour and salt.  Slice the butter into pieces and cut into flour mixture with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Make sure the butter is COLD!  It's also important to leave small bits of butter in the flour - this will help the crust be flaky.  All of this can be done in a food processor if you prefer.

Working in sections, gently mix in ice water with a fork until it forms a ball of dough.  Try not to overwork the dough.  On a well floured surface, roll the dough out with a rolling pin to form a circle large enough for your pie pan.

Transfer to pie pan, trim any excess from the edges, and fold the edges under.  Using your thumb and forefingers, crimp the edges.

Refrigerate dough for 15 minutes.  Remove from fridge, line with foil, and fill with pie weights (Who really has pie weights though?  Coins work just as well.  Multi-purpose laundry quarters!) Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove weights and foil and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until golden brown.  

Next, make the filling.  In a large mixing bowl, beat together eggs and egg yolks.  Whisk in the half & half and vanilla and set aside. 

In a large saucepan, mix together the pumpkin, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  I mash the yams with a fork before adding them.  Stirring frequently, bring to a sputtering boil over medium-high heat.  And by sputtering, I really mean bubbly!  Don't be shy about getting this concoction to really boil.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and shiny, about 15 minutes.

Once the pumpkin mixture is cooked, whisk in the cream mixture until combined.

Next, strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer.  This seems tedious at first, but this is where the silky aspect of the pie comes in.  It's a little more work, but TOTALLY worth it!  

Once strained, re-whisk filling and pour into pre-baked crust.  Place pie on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.  Turn oven down to 300 degrees and bake for 20-35 minutes longer, or until the edges are set.  

Here's one of the tricks to this pie: the center doesn't have to be set when you take it out of the oven, only the edges.  The pie continues to cook from the residual heat, so it's important to let it cool at room temperature for several hours.  I'd recommend 4-5 hours, but you can get away with fewer if you have to.

Serve with whipped cream and prepare yourself for the requests to make this pie for your friends to start pouring in!

Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie
Filling recipe from, where it was adapted from Cooks Illustrated
Crust recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book

Makes one 8" or 9" pie.

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup COLD butter
4-6 Tablespoons cold water

2 cups half and half (or 1 cup heavy cream and 1 cup whole milk)
3 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups pumpkin puree* (or 1 15-ounce can) 
1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can (regular canned yams can be substituted)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger 
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

For the Pumpkin Puree

Bake a sugar (pie) pumpkin:
  • Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds
  • Bake cut side down on a greased baking sheet at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes, or until a fork can be stuck through the pumpkin easily
  • Cool slightly, then scoop out pulp 
  • Mash pulp with a potato masher or run though a food processor until smooth
For the Crust
  • Mix together flour and salt in large mixing bowl
  • With a pastry blender, cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs (leaving clumps of butter)
  • Add 3 Tablespoons cold water and mix gently
  • One Tablespoon at a time, mix in additional cold water until the dough is moistened and forms a ball
  • On a well floured surface, roll the dough out with a rolling pin to form a circle big enough to fit into pie pan
  • Transfer to pie pan, trim the edges, fold extra dough under, and crimp the edges with thumb and forefingers or a fork
  • Refrigerate for 15 minutes
  • Remove dough from refrigerator, line with foil, and fill with pie weights (or coins)
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake for 10 more minutes, or until golden brown
For the Filling
  • In a medium mixing bowl, beat eggs and egg yolks.  Whisk in half and half (or cream and milk) and vanilla. Set aside.
  • In a large saucepan, mix together pumpkin, yams (mash with a fork prior to adding), sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  
  • Cook over medium heat until it comes to a sputtering boil, stirring frequently.
  • Continue to simmer, stirring constantly, for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture is thickened and shiny.
  • Remove from heat and stir in egg mixture.
  • Pour combined mixture through a fine mesh strainer.
  • Re-mix strained mixture and pour into pre-baked pie crust.
  • Bake pie on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake for 20-35 minutes longer, until edges are set.
  • Cool at room temperature for several hours (pie continues to bake and sets as it cools).
  • Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pumpkin spice pancakes

I'm pretty sure pancakes were the first hot dish I learned to prepare.  Even back when I was 8 years old, I was perfectly content to spend Saturday morning in the kitchen cooking up a delicious breakfast, while my younger siblings watched cartoons.  (At least until it was time to leave for CCD, thanks, Mom and Dad.)

Just as our taste in TV shows has changed since the days of shows like this, my pancake making has come a long way.  This pumpkin spice version is warm and spicy and perfect for a cold, fall morning.  Paired with crispy bacon and a steaming cup of coffee, you're guaranteed to be starting your day off on the right foot with these.  And if you have leftovers, even better!  Pop them in the freezer and indulge in the middle of the week.  No one will ever know!

This batch was made for one of my favorite married couples during their recent visit to DC.  I hope it convinced them to come back again soon!

First thing's first: brew yourself some coffee!  There's no way I could even think about functioning until I've had at least one cup.  Or two. 

If I'm having an especially indulgent day, before starting the pancakes, I like to fry up some bacon.  "Good bacon, good day!"*

Next, assemble your ingredients.  The recipe calls for pumpkin puree (canned works fine, or you can make your own - more on that to come), but I only had pumpkin pie filling available.  To adjust for this, I cut down the sugar to 2 Tablespoons.  They still turned out great, but I would stick with the original recipe if possible.

Whisk together your dry ingredients (flour (and any substitutes you'd like - I used a mix of white and wheat flour along with 1/2 cup of wheat germ), brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cloves, and salt) in a large mixing bowl.  Make sure you get out any lumps of sugar!

In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, pumpkin, and melted butter.  

All at once, add the wet mixture into the dry and mix until just blended.  Be careful not to over-mix the batter - the less you handle it, the fluffier the pancakes.  It's best to have some visible bits of flour that haven't been fully mixed in.  

Next, heat a large, non-stick frying pan or griddle over medium high heat.  Here's the trick to see if the pan is hot enough: run the tips of your fingers in cold water and spray a few drops on the pan.  If the droplets "dance," or jump off the pan, then it is hot enough.  Be sure to spray the pan with a cooking spray like PAM as well.  Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, spoon the batter onto the pan to form as many pancakes as will fit.  Make sure you leave yourself a little bit of wiggle room to allow for flipping.  

When the pancakes are ready, flip them.  You'll know they're ready when the bubbles in the center begin to pop and the edges start to brown, like this:

Cook until each side is golden brown.

Transfer to a plate in a warm oven, about 250 degrees. 

Repeat with the remaining batter.  I usually only need to spray the pan before the first batch.  Warning: the first batch of pancakes never looks awesome.  Consecutive batches will turn out better and better though, so don't worry.  And they all taste wonderful, regardless.

Once you've used all the pancake batter, congratulations!  You're ready to eat breakfast. 

Serve pancakes hot with lots of butter and maple syrup.  Pour another cup of coffee or a glass of apple cider, and you are good to go.  Enjoy!

*This is a real motto from a real family.  A pretty awesome family.  And it's totally true!

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes
Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 1996
Makes about 15 pancakes

2 cups flour (any mix you would like - I used 1 cup white flour, 1/2 cup wheat flour, & 1/2 cup wheat germ)
6 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups buttermilk (I used sour milk*)
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
3 eggs
2 Tablespoons butter, melted

1. Mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cloves, and salt in large mixing bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, pumpkin, eggs, and melted butter.
3. Pour wet mixture into dry and mix until just combined.
4. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and spray with PAM.  Once it is hot (when cold water droplets dropped on the pan "dance"), pour batter using a 1/4 cup measuring cup to form pancakes.  
5. Flip each pancakes when the bubbles in the center begin to pop and the edges begin to brown. Cook until each side is golden brown.
6. Transfer to a plate in a warm oven (250 degrees) and repeat with remaining batter. 
7. Serve hot with butter and maple syrup.  

* If, like me, you don't keep buttermilk on hand, you can use sour milk instead.  Mix 1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice with enough milk to yield the desired amount. Let stand 5-10 minutes before using. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Savory apple + carmelized onion tart

Nothing says fall like baked apples.  Apple crisp, apple pie, heck, I'll even settle for just burning this candle once the weather suggests it might dip below 60.  In an effort to fit as much of this delicious fruit into my diet as possible this season, I decided to change things up and make a main dish with some crispy apples for a savory alternative.  Mixed with warm, caramelized onions, layered with sharp cheddar cheese and wrapped in a rustic, savory crust, this tart did not disappoint.  It was not only great straight out of the oven but also the perfect leftover to bring in for a workday lunch.
How can anyone resist that cheese???

First thing's first - you can't beat fresh picked apples.  If, like me, you didn't make it to the orchard before the end of the season, head straight to your local roadside farm stand and grab a basket of your favorite type.  I used Macintosh, but you could use Cortland, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Honeycrisp -- you really can't go wrong here.  
Now before we get into any of this "cooking" thing, make sure you're prepared.  Pop open a good bottle of Cabernet and pour yourself a glass.

Now that's taken care of, let's start with the crust.  This pastry crust is very forgiving, so don't let it stress you out. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and thyme.

With a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Leaving some chunks of butter is important here so that the crust will be flaky and tender. Gradually mix in the ice water with a fork, working the dough section by section until it just comes together in a ball.  Be careful to work the dough as little as possible so that it doesn't get tough and chewy. You can also do this in a food processor if you prefer.

On a well floured surface, roll the dough out in a circle just wider than your pie pan.  Transfer the circle into your pie pan by folding it in half, then in half again and moving to the pan.  Once it's in the pan, it's easy to unfold and center the dough.  Let the dough rest in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
For the filling, we're going to mix caramelized onions and sliced apple.  To caramelize the onions, roughly slice onions and saute in a tablespoon of olive oil with sea salt until they become soft and brown, about 15-20 minutes.  When you start, it will look like this:
When you're done, the onions will cook down to about half the volume and become soft and golden, like this:
While the onions are cooking, peel, core, and slice your apples. Mix the apples and onions together in a mixing bowl.
 Shred your cheese:
And pour another glass of wine while you're at it!
Remove the crust from the fridge and pour half of your apple/onion mixture into the center.  Layer with a sprinkling of cheese (about 2/3 of your cheese) before topping with the rest of the apples/onions.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.  
Fold the edges of the crust up toward the center of the tart like so:
Now pop that baby into the oven at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.  Serve hot out of the oven.

Savory Apple & Caramelized Onion Tart
Adapted from Heart of Light
Makes one 8 inch tart, about 4-6 servings as a main dish or 8 servings as a side

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cold and cubed
1/4 -1/2 cup ice water

4 medium apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 large onions, roughly sliced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup shredded cheese (your preference -- I used sharp cheddar)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Make the pastry dough for the crust:  
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and thyme
  • With a pastry blender, cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs 
  • Mix in the ice water until the dough comes together in a ball, working it as little as possible
  • On a well floured surface, roll the dough out in a circle just wider than your pie pan
  • Transfer dough to pie pan and let rest in fridge
Make the filling:
  • Roughly slice the onions, sprinkle with sea salt and saute in olive oil until caramelized, about 20 minutes
  • Peel, core, and slice apples and mix with onions
Remove crust from fridge and fill with half of apple/onion mixture.  Sprinkle with 2/3 of the shredded cheese and top with remaining filling.  Top with remaining cheese. Fold edges of crust up toward the center of the tart. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. 

Serve and enjoy!

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Kitchen Holiday

Hi, I’m Rachel, a Washingtonian who loves to cook.  No matter how busy life gets, between late nights at work, travel, or even just a pretty awesome social life, I always try to find time to cook something delicious.  Extra points if it’s healthy!  From quick weeknight dinners to sinful baked goods or my favorite weekend brunch, nothing relaxes me like creating a mouth-watering dish. It’s so relaxing, in fact, that it just might make you feel like you’re on a holiday in your kitchen. 

So crank some music, pour a glass of wine, and join me in the kitchen for some cooking that’s sure to soothe and enliven your senses!

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